Note: This is an archived project; no significant changes have been made since parliament was seated in January 2016.
Indifference in Qalyubia
“I’m not going to vote. The final outcome is fairly predictable, and as far as individual candidates are concerned, I do not know any of them, so I can’t be bothered,” a shopkeeper in Shubra al-Kheima said Sunday. Though his shop in this far north Cairo suburb is in an area where Muhammad Abdel Aziz has been heavily promoted as an alternative to pro-regime candidates, the 38-year-old trader is not impressed. “I know he is one of the founders of Tamarod and all, but I had no idea he was from here,” he shrugged.
Abdel Aziz, a 30-year-old journalist for the privately owned Tahrir newspaper, is indeed from Shubra al-Kheima. He is running for the first time this election although he claims to have been involved in politics for the past 15 years. “First in Kefaya (a protest movement against former President Hosni Mubarak), then during the January 25 Revolution against Hosni Mubarak, then against the Muslim Brotherhood with Tamarod (a movement formed to protest against then-President Muhammad Morsi).” When prompted to elaborate about his role, he said, “Mistakes were made, in the transitional period, and until now—but one cannot say I or the like of me was in charge.” Abdel Aziz shied away from saying which mistakes, concluding, “We should not try to forbid different opinions—we need strong education and awareness campaigns to teach people to listen to each other.”
Abdel Aziz, a prominent member of Tamarod, chose a slightly different path from his comrades after the movement achieved its goal of toppling Morsi with a strong helping hand from the military. During the presidential election in 2014, Abdel Aziz supported Hamdeen Sabahi, the only candidate to oppose Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, while many Tamarod members supported Sisi. Tamarod’s reputation as a grassroots popular movement was damaged in the light of the support it received from many businessmen and the army. But Abdel Aziz kept his revolutionary rhetoric: “To me, running in these elections is the best way to prevent the old regime from coming back. I know many young people are depressed, and don’t want to vote, and don’t want to run either. But we need to do politics for a change rather than protesting.” He says a few of Nation’s Future Party candidates are friends of his, but that he would not feel happy joining it. This party is widely taken as a state-backed venture, a sham youth movement.
In front of one of Shubra al-Kheima’s polling stations, two young abaya-clad supporters of Abdel Aziz enthusiastically spoke about their champion. “He is the most respectable candidate. And we’ve heard about him since 2011.” Samaa, 29, was nonetheless unable to cite any of his policies.
Abdel Aziz hammered home—as do most candidates—the dire state of Egyptian education, healthcare, and youth employment (“in Shubra al-Kheima, it’s worse, as many factories have closed recently with the political turmoil and even more during the past two years”), but he also made it clear that he hoped to amend, among other things, the counter-terrorism law and the protest law. They have been heavily criticised by activists and human rights organisations, as they allow a crackdown on the freedom of expression, and are not constitutional, Abdel Aziz argues. He is not the only one to say so, but other candidates are less willing to be quoted on that. They say “the law needs to be amended.” But they do not want to say more “for fear of the bad impact it could have.” Later developments may tell whether such caution is dictated by concern for the authorities, or fear of voters backing off from supporting a candidate who would not support all the decisions passed by the government in the absence of a parliament over the past few years.
A group of twenty somethings in Banha, capital of the Qalyubia province, had also decided not to vote. Patriotic concerns are nevertheless on their minds. When one of them said, “These elections are won before we even vote,” his friends grumbled that saying so gives a bad image of Egypt.
The lack of real political debate or clear ideological differences between the parties is also acknowledged by candidates themselves. In Banha, Gamal al-Arabi, a former minister of education, is the Wafd Party candidate. “This party is nice and historic; it has a liberal ideology. Granted, I could have chosen other parties for the same ideology. And indeed, I only joined Wafd 10 months ago to run for the elections.”
A group of local law students agreed on one thing: they do not hate Sisi, nor do they like him, but they do not believe that the parliament will have any sort of power. “The head of state is everything in our country. A parliament is all very nice, but what will it actually do?”
One of them, Karim, 21, remarked, “At least these elections have entertained me greatly with some nice jokes on Facebook and Twitter.” “This year everyone has had a singer compose a loud shaabi song for them,” said Heba, a 22-year-old Banha law student, referring to the electronic music popular with young Egyptians. Another student noted that in Monofeya, it feels safer to go vote—the army’s presence around polling places keeps order. In Shubra al-Kheima earlier in the day, though, residents complained of open vote-buying near voter stations.